Friday, 27 December 2013

Vile weather

"A tiny man? Dressed as some fog?"

Where else could such a line have sprung but the Monster Hunters Christmas Special? I'm getting some down me right now as I write this, and I recommend you do likewise pronto to achieve full Christcritical Massmas. If you're wondering by the way where Sir Maxwell House has gone, he appears to have wandered into the Radio 4 Comedy Advent Calendar as Good King Wenceslas care of John Finnemore. I can't seem to embed the clip because I'm down in France with the folks, where the sky is clear down to the mountains and the colours as crisp as the cover art on a second-hand Asimov. This link should work though. I should probably get another voice. And that's it really. Belated Yuletide tidings. Sorry, I'll write more once I've made my resolutions.
I hope none of you are stuck.
Here's Tommy Steele...

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This week's slug sketch brought to you by Manowar

Everyone should listen to this track at least once.

And of course "David Mitchell" is an anagram of "Death to False Metal".
Here then is episode 4 of That Sound, with the sketch I wrote about slugs, which went well, which was a relief, as my laughter can attest (it was originally going to be a far more naturalistic interior monologue, still a slug's, but I got stuck on that, and then I wrote a sketch about a bee's interior monologue - sitting on poison, wanting to "back into" someone, a bit intense, very easy to write, not recorded -  and thought two sketches about animals having interior monologues would be stupid, hence the adoption of Manowar's tried-and-tested Welsh Grandfather motif. Process.) I thought this was going to be the last episode, but look there's a bonus fifth episode here. I told you there was lots of good stuff at the recording. Enjoy. I'm off shopping. Shop!

Monday, 9 December 2013

"It's happening again..."

That Mitchell and Webb Sound is happening again, I mean. I guess. I guess that's what I mean. Wait, this introduction is terrible. Start again. MITCHELL AND WEBB ARE BACK!

And these dogs are highly trained.

But of course you knew that. Ah, wonderful to be writing sketches again. I hadn't had a commission since the last series of That Mitchell and Webb Look, and that was four years ago since when I'd turned performer in three series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, which is surely as useful an inside-look into how to make a sketch work as one could wish for. (I've noticed every programme I work on seems to have a really long name though, at least four stresses each - Laurence and Gus: Hearts and Minds was another. It can be a little anxiety-inducing when asked if you're up to anything, as these are difficult names to drop casually. I'd love to be able to just say "Yeah, I'm doing another series of Gag Lab"... Although reading that aloud I just said "Gad Lab"... Gag Lad. Gab.... Gag Lag. Maybe Gag Blag's not so easy a name to drop either.) What was my point again? Gag Lab. Oh yes, working on JFSP not only showed that it was possible for a single human to write an entire series of sketches and still enjoy it, it showed me a little more clearly just how an idea can become a sketch.

Not of course that I came to put any of this into practice. Of the three (rhymes with "Squeeee!") sketches of mine used last week only the first, concerning vampires' arguably supernumerary attributes, felt anything like the kind of thing someone might be looking for. The third, inspired by a throwaway gag in the first sketch, was one of those attempts at a no-rush, American-style, stuff-awkwardly-going-wrong-in-a-showbiz-setting-type sketches that I keep having a bash at, forgetting how few laughs from a studio audience such sketches eventually play to. Of course everyone is brilliant, and it wouldn't have been a worry if only every other sketch at these recordings hadn't been so dizzyingly well executed as well. It was great, but I felt like a newbie again, minus the sheen. There's an internal monologue that accompanies the first five or so seconds of each new sketch you see recorded I had completely forgotten about. It goes: "Okay who's standing up? Two men - Have I written a sketch with two men? - Yes, is this one of mine? - What's that sound effect? Did I write a sketch that starts with that sound effect? Maybe. It's a door opening. I definitely wrote a sketch that starts with a door opening. What are they saying? I don't remember that line. Did I write that line? Is this one of mine? Maybe it is and I've forgotten writing it. Is this the two men talking to each other sketch I wrote? No this is another sketch with two men talking to each other, does this mean they won't - OH BOY THAT'S GOOD. This is good. How far are they from the end? How thick are the pages they have left?" Etc.
This doesn't of course do justice to how much I enjoyed the recordings, but it happened a lot.

Then there's a second internal monologue which goes: "Aw, hey! This is my sketch! They're doing this sketch! I love this sketch! I'm going to enjoy watching this... I haven't put any jokes in. I mustn't laugh. This is my sketch. They're playing this brilliantly. I love it. Nobody's laughing though because I haven't put any jokes in. I'd laugh though. But I can't. It's mine. I'm normally a big laugher. I'd definitely be laughing at this right now if it wasn't mine, or somebody else was laughing. Shit. Everyone was having such fun a minute ago, with those good sketches written by people who do it properly. What are you playing at, dramatising your midnight qualms, Simon, you dope? You think anyone's interested in whether or not you want to watch Last Action Hero? Remember that Caesar sketch you wrote in Series 4? Why didn't you do another one of them? There you are, hill-walking in Belfast on the Ring tour, haunted by the ghost of Acker Bilk*, doing tortoise voices, tinkering at your laptop in front of a Prayer Channel in various Premiere Inns over yet another draft of your messy sci-fi pilot that you've only said is inspired by Robert Anton Wilson because you can't actually be bothered to work out what's happening in it. Sending in your ten-minute-long, five-year-old sketches about Elizabethan alchemy. You think Toby Davies tries to pull this shit? No, he applies himself. Wow, still nobody's laughing. I wish I could laugh. Why do we have to worry about whether or not people are laughing? Why can't we use canned laughter? If people were told this was funny I'm sure they'd find it funny. It's not fair. Aw man they're not even laughing at the Ali Bongo reference. I knew I should have put the Great Soprendo. Guys, I'm so sorry. What have I made you say?" Etc.

Okay, that's rarer. What I'm really saying is, I'm stunned and delighted the Last Action Hero sketch made it in. It's beautifully played and I'm fine in the end with the amount of laughter. It seemed a popular idea at the writers' meetings, and I'm conscious how little I normally contribute to those. ("Man's Hour", probably my favourite sketch of this episode, I remember Rob spinning pretty much verbatim at the same meeting. That was great, as was Toby wondering aloud if there might be anything in a sketch set in a shop that only sells cash registers. I got a bit overexcited at that.) In the end, sad and beautifully played to total silence as this new stuff has turned out, it contributes a little I hope to the episode's very effective air of hopelessness. Wait until you hear episode 4 though...

So episode 2 is available here. It's brilliant and I am lucky.
And the first episode is still available here, brilliant again!
Thanks also to here, for the Last Action Hero gif.
Finally, any "Monster Hunters" fans might be interested to learn that the Klaus running the Carpathian Open Mic night is indeed distantly related to the Klaus who runs the inn at Karnstadt in this.
Tank you, tank you.

*Every performance of Ring ended with "Stranger on the Shore".

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

My favourite film

... is up on youtube. It's very difficult to find elsewhere, so I've posted it below, because that is the reason to have a blog. (It was never released theatrically, it seems, and like another of my favourites - Karel Zeman's "Baron Munchausen" - it's not available on DVD. Nor is Gilbert's Fridge. Posterity's taking the piss.) You should watch it. It's personal, like a dream, like someone's made a film just for you. By which I mean "me". Maybe its rarity explains why I'm so happy to call it the favourite - I won't have to defend the choice because who else will have seen it? But I've sat friends down in front of the VHS and they seem to have loved it, taped on a whim unseen when it played once on BBC2's Moviedrome over twenty years ago. Presenter Alex Cox's introduction is on that tape first, and I force them to watch that too, because I want them to have as great a time as I did. It all has to be done just right. In case I'm wrong. And that's why actually I'm going to shut up about the film now and instead put up a transcription of that perfect introduction. Then we can talk about it after, yeah? Here:

"Nothing Lasts Forever was directed by Tom Schiller in 1934. Schiller was assistant prop man on King Kong. (It is he, covered in boot polish, who stands on top of the giant gates on Skull Island, shouting 'Kong Konga Kong!' as the giant ape comes looking for Fay Wray.) The same year, 1933, he directed the first of a series of docudramas about the lives of great pianists. Nothing Lasts Forever, the story of the concert pianist Adam Beckett, is the second in his long series of piano-oriented films. Beckett - a vastly popular concert pianist of the teens and twenties - died tragically in 1928, when he was mistaken for John Dillinger at a Chicago rooming house. The young man was leaving the building with a packet of curtain rods wrapped in brown paper, when he was accosted by two nervous FBI men who believed they had caught America's most wanted fugitive. What they didn't know was that Beckett, like Beethoven before, was completely deaf. The tragedy that followed forms the climax to Schiller's moving film. Interestingly, there was also a Russian biopic about Beckett made only two years later. Known, rather improbably, as Last Streetcar to Manhattan, it told the story from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, depicting Beckett as an impoverished proletarian who attempts to organise a Young Workers' and Pianists' Communist League. The Russian version, directed by Boris Turnovski, was later denounced by Stalin at the 25th Plenum of the Supreme Soviet. Even as Turnovski and his fellow filmmakers departed for internal exile, the original American Nothing Lasts Forever began to enjoy a covert popularity behind the Iron Curtain. Both films were removed from the banned list by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reputedly declared that only Schiller would be allowed to direct the feature version of The Gulag Archipelago. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev apparently discussed Nothing Lasts Forever at length during their first historic summit, Reagan having tried out for the role of Mendehlsson in another of Schiller's biographies of great composers (the role eventually going to Randolph Scott). Now aged almost ninety, Schiller lives in New England, where he and Solzhenitsyn still meet regularly, discussing their adaptation of The Gulag. The money's already in place for this big-budget, American/Russian/French co-production. The only delay apparently is caused by a disagreement between Schiller and Solzhenitsyn as to how many musical number shall appear in the film."